Manassas Journal Messenger | It’s possible to have growth without sprawl

Many politicians use the terms “Growth” and “Sprawl” interchangeably, when in fact there is a significant difference between the two. Specifically, the former is inevitable and the latter is not.

The most memorable line in the movie “Field Of Dreams” was; “if you build it, they will come.” Well, that’s not quite true when it comes to population increases in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. People are coming no matter what is built, or where.

If proper planning isn’t done within Prince William County, and politicians put a halt to all growth (as is the plan with many “smart growth” candidates), people will simply move further out causing traffic and congestion anyway.

Therefore, we must adopt common sense planning decisions to ensure that best practices are used when negotiating with developers on the use of land for residential, commercial and industrial space.

I believe that it is possible to work with builders to find solutions that are both financially beneficial to them while simultaneously inflicting minimal impact on traffic and the environment.

This win-win scenario has two prerequisites. The first is open and honest communication between builders, planners and citizens. The second is a solid understanding of the needs and desires of all the stakeholders involved.

Steven Covey, in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” has excellent advice: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

A lot of work must be done to satisfy these prerequisites before progress can be made. In the interest of working toward that end, citizens will have an opportunity to learn more about these issues at a round table discussion to be held at the McCoart Administration Center on Thursday, August 7.

Speakers scheduled to participate will include: Dr. Stephen Fuller, economics professor from GMU; Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth; Kim Hosen, Executive Director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance; Dr. Jack Kooyoomjian, Vice Chair of LOCCA/PELT; and Mike Garcia, Owner of Mike Garcia Homes.

This group represents a fairly broad cross section of stakeholders. It is open to the public and will run from 7 p.m.- 9 p.m. It is my understanding that folks who do attend the event will have an opportunity afterwards to chat with, and ask questions of, the program participants.

I hope people use this opportunity to come out Thursday night and listen to the exchange. It is through this type of dialog that we will be able to build a better community, with fewer problems than those faced by neighboring jurisdictions like Fairfax and Arlington.

There are a number of issues that I believe need to be addressed in the near future that will greatly impact Prince William County as a whole, however, I want to use the rest of my column to bring up some that are specific to my neck of the woods here in the Occoquan District.

Recently the board of supervisors voted to permit a car dealership to move from U.S. 1 onto the old Hechingers lot near the intersection of Minnieville Road and Smoketown Road.

I can’t help but question what responsibility Coles Ford, or Lowes for that matter as they also recently moved, will have in ensuring that the space they move out of doesn’t become a plight for the county?

While the abandonment of buildings such as Hechingers or Amazing Universe are a problem, the companies that owned them didn’t have any choice – they went out of business. However, decisions to move from one area to another should come with a certain level of accountability to the business community as well as citizens in ensuring that the abandoned buildings do not become an eyesore.

This may be the beginning of another mass exodus from U.S. 1, similar to the one that occurred when Interstate-95 opened. U.S. 1 arguably never recovered and, if care isn’t taken, the same thing could happen to other roads in the area.

One example of an upcoming land use decision that could have potential negative consequences for my community is if a Wawa gas station is given approval to locate on Old Bridge Road. If this happens, it will likely be only a matter of time before one or more of the nearby gas stations are put out of business. Thus leaving a structure that will sit and decay because no other business could make use of it as it is designed. Nor would any business be interested in paying to “clean up” the site – which would undoubtedly be considered a hazardous materials site and cost quite a bit to make it usable.

James Simpson lives in Lake Ridge.

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